PMU machines vs Tattoo machines
This blog post is to answer the following question: “Are PMU machines different from Tattoo machines? And how?”
In October 2020 I was in a lip training session by a reputable Micropigmentation trainer, I remember that she said: “There are two types of machines, those are PMU machines and Rotary machines. PMU machines have a needle that goes up and down and moves around the neck of the cartridge (good for full lips colours) while in Rotary machines the needle only goes up and down, without moving around, so it is best for Ombre and powder.”
As I am a book-keeper turned Microblader, I have a habit of questioning what I heard from other trainers, and I like to read more about the matter that interested me. I found out that PMU machines are actually Rotary machines, or pen-style rotary machines. And Rotary machines and Coil machines are actually two types of Tattooing machines. So all PMU machines are rotary, which developed from rotary tattoo machines with an aim to make them lighter, smaller, quieter and vibrate less, hence more suitable for permanent makeup jobs. These are the few main differences I can see between a PMU and a tattoo machines
Shape and weight: PMU machines need to be lighter and smaller as they are designed to suit smaller hands of PMU artists, who are mainly women.
Plus a permanent make up job takes about 2-3 hours and covers a small area like the lips, brows, or eyeliners compared to a 4-5 hours or more for a tattoo job that might cover half a body, that’s why a PMU machine does not need to be strong and perform well for a long period of time like a tattoo machine. The look is also a difference: PMU machines look slim and sleek like a pen, while tattooing machines are more bulky. The picture on the left side are Cheyenne rotary tattoo hand pieces and on the right side is a picture of a LaBina PMU power supply and hand piece.
Stroke length: In the world of tattoo machines, there are much greater choices for machines with different stroke lengths, from 2.5 mm to 4mm.
While in PMU machines, popular stroke lengths are: 2.1mm (Bella) 2.3mm (Apollo) -3.0mm (Glovcon),
Stroke length is not the length of a heart stroke, it is how much time the needles spend in the tube (body of the hand piece) which means in a long stroke needles spend more time in the tube than a short stroke.
Long Stroke length: great for colour packing and solid black tattooing because the needles tend to stay saturated with ink more, so you get a better ink flow and longer passes with one dip.
Shorter strokes: smoother and consistent, but you have to rely a little more on the gravity of the ink to flow out the tube, so you will have to dip more often.
That explains why tattoo machines normally have longer stroke length , allowing the artists to work longer on a wide area without many dippings, and PMU machines have shorter strokes length to control the ink flow to minimum without flushing the working area -mainly on the face- with inks.
The purposes of a tattooing machine are divided into two groups: Liner machines and Shader machines, coin style tattooing devices are especially divided in this way. PMU machines are all in one, meaning one machine can be used for both.
A power unit is sold separately for tattoo machines while it is always included / designed as a whole package with a hand piece in a PMU machine.
Needle choice: tattoo needles have many categories such as tight liner, curved magnums, round liners, bugpin liners, bugpin shapers, to name a few. The needle diameter is normally from 0.25 mm to 0.4 mm with many different configurations.
PMU needles are much simpler with only 2 groups of liner and shader, with smaller diameter from 0.18 to 0.40mm for more delicate jobs such as eyeliners.
Needle price: Patent membrane needle type is £6-£10 per unit, while the same membrane style cartridge for a tattooing machine is only £2-£4 (price correct in December 2020)
So can a PMU artist take the best of both worlds? For example could they use a tattooing needle for a PMU job?
The answer is yes, I call them the Cross-Over style machine such as the Pen-style Bella handpiece which can fit many tattooing style cartridges and also Glovcon machines from Kwadron which can fit Kwadron needles and other universal style needles.
I am planning to do a video about how they look and work differently on fake skin, so check the Feature Clinic youtube channel for more !
References: MDtattoos.com forum